MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS: Surrounded by candidates

With politics, what you see (or hear) is not necessarily what is really going on.

Moshe Lion (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Moshe Lion
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
After his official announcement, Jerusalem Affairs and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin was sure he could relax and focus on his campaign. Several tense days with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended with what seemed to be a bold decision: Elkin had decided to run despite Netanyahu’s refusal to officially support his candidacy.
However, with politics, what you see (or hear) is not necessarily what is really going on. Elkin’s move was presented as a show of confidence in his ability to attract enough Jerusalemite votes even without the blessing of Netanyahu, yet it may turn out to have been a sophisticated political move.
Likud sources say that Netanyahu actually backs Elkin’s decision and will probably make financial support from the party available. Elkin’s move actually enabled Netanyahu to evade pressure from MKs Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beytenu) and Arieh Deri (Shas) in favor of their preferred candidate – Moshe Lion.
Officially, Elkin is running without the prime minister’s blessing and without the party’s financial support. In reality, Elkin has significant support from the Likud branch in the city – a powerful tool that is already working hard for him. Also in Elkin’s favor is the fact that exiting Mayor Nir Barkat strongly supports his candidacy and is likely to hand over his city council list, thereby channeling significant state election funds to Elkin.
Complicating matters, local Likud branch president Ofer Ayoubi is No. 2 on Lion’s list to the council. Jerusalem’s Likud branch is the largest in the country, and 180 of its thousands of members are also members of the Likud Central Committee, the inner circle that decides key issues of support. Most of these 180 members back Elkin, who they feel will ensure right-wing control of the city.
Lion’s political affiliation is less clear.
He is close to the local Likud branch, but not a member, and also close to Lieberman’s party, which has but a small fraction of the Likud’s power and organizational capacities in the city.
Some say that Lion is a member of Israel Beytenu, which he denies, adding that even though he is not a member of the Likud he nevertheless gets a lot of support from residents identified with this party.
Until recently he was confident of his chances to win, often repeating that he will be the next mayor and nothing will prevent it. Now things seem to favor him less, but he is adamant about continuing his campaign. “I will run to the end, and if the high number of candidates occasions a second round, I will be in it, too,” Lion insists. “I will be the next Jerusalem mayor.”
Asked how he will fill in the gap of supporters who will move to Elkin, Lion says he will request haredi support – but shies away from the issue of at what price. Seeking haredi support will probably require him to take their preferences into consideration – such as Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman’s recent, anger-provoking declaration that Gur Hassidic support for any mayoral candidate will be contingent upon shutting down the shuk’s bars.
“He does not understand that if this happens, it will be the end of Mahaneh Yehuda and will ruin the income of many. We will not let this occur,” said Nino Peretz, head of the shuk’s Merchants’ Association and himself a member of the local Likud branch and the Likud Central Committee.
This past Sunday, a new face entered the arena – Kobi Kahlon, former deputy mayor and head of the powerful local planning and construction committee, and the brother of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu). Kobi Kahlon is an influential member of Kulanu, which broke from the Likud only about two years ago, and most of the people in the party share similar positions and interests.
“That means that Kahlon could get support from members of the Likud in the city, who might prefer him to Elkin, because he was very esteemed during the five years he served here as deputy mayor and head of the planning committee,” says a member of the Likud who asked not to be identified.
It is unclear whether Kahlon plans to run at the head of a Kulanu list, which would put the Yerushalmim faction in a delicate position. Yerushalmim was created by MK Rachel Azaria, today a member of Kulanu. If Kahlon runs with his own list, then who will vote for Yerushalmim? On Thursday evening, a very important meeting was held in Pisgat Ze’ev, the first in a series of meetings to test the depth of Elkin’s support among Jerusalem Likudniks. It was then leaked that Kobi Kahlon may be interested in joining forces with Elkin and not run alone, and he has also started to meet with influential Likudniks. For now, there is nothing more than Kahlon’s Sunday declaration that he is seriously considering running.
MEANWHILE, TENSION is growing in the haredi sector. Deputy Mayor Yossi Daitch is eager to run, persuaded that the plethora of candidates actually improves his chances. His opponents say that even if Daitch wins, it would only be a Pyrrhic victory, as hatred against haredim will grow and a haredi mayor would probably cause a large emigration of secular residents from the city.
As for the “pluralist” field, some polls give candidate Ofer Berkovitch high scores, but he is not the only candidate of this sector, as Yossi Havilio refuses to quit the race.
Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, distanced from his office at Safra Square by the court in conjunction with a police investigation, is also still in the running.
Sources at Safra Square say that he probably will persevere in order to obtain at least one seat at the council and continue from there his struggle to prove his innocence.
As for the city’s Arab residents, after several weeks of “normalization,” they were growing accustomed to the idea of an Arab list (Ramadan Dabash’s list from Zur Baher) running for city council. Another project – a joint Arab-Jewish list is still trying to come together. Meanwhile, the al-Aksa imam issued a stern warning to Arabs not to participate in any way in the elections, adding that whoever does so will be considered a traitor to the homeland. So far, Dabash is not considering any withdrawal from his plan to run for the council.
Time to strike
With less than five months to go before the mayoral election, the municipality’s 7,500 employees are planning a strike. In line with the law, employee committee head Avichai Avraham has submitted a workers’ conflict notice to the district branch of the Histadrut labor federation, which has been approved. If nothing relevant happens, all municipal services will be shut down within two weeks.
Reasons for the conflict include worsening working conditions, lack of advancement for veteran employees and a refusal to refund travel expenses of staff who work outside of Safra Square.
Monster victory
After years of struggle, the Mifletzet Pub in Kiryat Hayovel, a community and social project launched in 2015, obtained a business permit from the municipality this week. The pub became a contentious issue over the years, with repeated requests from city council haredim to shut it down because it is open on Shabbat.
The pub operates as a cooperative; each resident can buy a share and become a member. Represented by advocate Yossi Havilio through his nonprofit association Tzahor, the pub has become a symbol of the tensions between religious and secular residents and is referenced in the campaigns of several candidates.
The success of the Mifletzet has already inspired others to take the same path. This week, residents in East Talpiot have decided to open a local pub.
Here also, the pub will be located on the premises of the local council and community center.
Hitorerut goes to the market
Attempting to present the most attractive list possible for the city council elections, Hitorerut has recruited one of the shuk’s legends – Eli Mizrahi, the man who opened Mahaneh Yehuda’s first coffee shop and led the profound change in the market’s character about 10 years ago. Café Mizrahi does not exist any more, but it has been imitated by many and has changed the atmosphere in the shuk so fundamentally that Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) has declared that the haredi sector will condition support for any mayoral candidate on a pledge to close its bars and restaurants, which he considers “licentious places.”
“Litzman meant to threaten us, but we are going to fight back,” commented a Hitorerut activist earlier this week.